May 4 Annual Commemoration: 45th Anniversary

Good afternoon, everyone.  Personally and as president, I consider it a privilege to be here with you.  I know I will always remember my first opportunity to participate in a commemoration of May 4 at Kent State University — especially the deeply moving traditions of the candlelight march and vigil of last evening.

So let me start by thanking the May 4 Task Force for inviting me.  It is so impressive that students who were not alive in 1970 have made such strong and deeply personal commitments to ensuring that the history made here — and its lasting legacy — are not only not forgotten but long remembered for the lifelong impact on families, our university and our country.

Just as importantly, you deserve our gratitude for ensuring that Allison Krause, Jeffrey Miller, Sandra Scheuer and William Schroeder will never be forgotten.  And that the nine students who were injured here on May 4, 1970 — as well as the students lost 11 days later at Jackson State — are not forgotten, either.

Although I never had the pleasure of knowing her, I am so glad that today the Task Force is also remembering the contributions of the late Carol Barbato.  She is one of a number of Kent State faculty members who have devoted so much of themselves to keeping the memories and lessons of May 4, 1970, alive.  They include the late Glenn Frank, Professor Emeritus Jerry M. Lewis, Professor Tom Hensley and Carol’s dear friend, Professor Emerita Laura Davis..

In these last 10 months, I have been truly touched by the hundreds of individuals who have told me about the ways that May fourth changed their lives.  Like Carol Barbato, they are among countless alumni who found that being here in 1970 crystallized their values and sparked their life’s work.

For me and so many here and around the world, the events of and surrounding May 4, 1970, remain a vivid memory.  I was a senior at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro.  Along with universities nationwide, our campus was actively voicing our concerns about the state of our divided nation and the war in Vietnam.

Although I was far from Kent, Ohio, my heart flew here in an instant when I heard the shocking news that four members of my generation had been killed on their campus.  I certainly could not have imagined that 45 years later, I would be president of the university that holds such an indelible place in American history and such a vivid and visceral personal place in my mind and heart.

Then as now, I believe our community has a solemn and enduring responsibility to honor the promising, young lives we lost; to powerfully and accurately share our unique history; and to teach the painful lessons of that day — through our superb School of Peace and Conflict Studies; through our world-class May 4 Visitors Center; through the efforts of our dedicated faculty, staff and alumni; and through the continuing commitment of the Task Force.

About 72 hours ago, I was inaugurated as Kent State University’s 12th president.  As part of my inaugural address, I noted that as Kent State pursues an incredibly bright future, we will continue to honor our past — because it is not only the right thing to do; but also our moral and ethical obligation to share the 45-year-old lessons of May 4 with a world that remains troubled — torn by war and filled with injustice.

Again, I thank the Task Force for their efforts to accomplish those ongoing goals, and for continuing the meaningful traditions of the candlelight walk, vigil and commemoration.  I also want to recognize the many current faculty members who, to borrow from Graham Nash, continue to “teach our children well.”  They include Task Force Advisor Kabir Sayed, of our Department of Pan-African Studies.

And let me say to the May 4 families and to the individuals who were wounded and who have traveled here today, I am so sorry for the pain you have experienced and continue to experience.  I know it is the kind of pain that is not diminished by the passage of time.  I hope you find comfort in the empathy and support of today’s Kent State community and of our abiding commitment to never forget.

Finally, I applaud everyone here for taking time to remember, honor and recommit to the values of peace, justice and human dignity.  You are part of the reason that Kent State in 2015 stands as a reminder that we must remain vigilant in protecting our cherished rights to speak and gather freely, to let all views be voiced without fear and heard with civility, and to continue working together toward a world in which all conflicts can be resolved peacefully.

It is good — very good — to know that so many members of our community — especially our students — have taken to heart these well-known words of Mahatma Gandhi:  “You must be the change you wish to see in the world.”

Thank you, everyone.